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We'll get the ball rolling in Kansas City, where it's on! And by "it," I mean Larry Johnson is now openly asking for a new contract and is making no secret of his willingness to hold out from training camp to get one.
In an interview published Thursday, Johnson told Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock, "I'm prepared. [My agent and father] got me saving money. I'm hustling to get more money to put in the bank. They already started setting aside different accounts, if that would have to happen.
"They're already telling me to be cautious about how I spend, where I go and stuff like that. To make sure that if it goes down like that, then I've got to be able to pace myself so I won't be in trouble."
Johnson also said he believes that Chiefs president Carl Peterson is going to "test" him in connection with contract negotiations that could turn contentious quickly -- especially in light of the fact that the Chiefs were making it known earlier this year that Johnson was available via trade.
So, has he done anything to avoid a contentious holdout?
"I've talked with Herm [Edwards] about it," Johnson said. "Herm said he doesn't even know the money I'm asking for. He said he doesn't really care. He said I've done a lot in terms of OTAs (organized team activities) and mini-camp to buy into the program. He said he'll talk with Carl and those things will get handled. It all depends on how the upstairs people play it."
Johnson is slated to make $1.7 million this season, not a huge sum for a fifth-year player with his resume. Speculation has centered on Johnson seeking a contract that falls between the deals given LaDainian Tomlinson ($21 million in guarantees) and Peyton Manning ($35 million in guarantees) -- although his agent, Alvin Keels, denies that.
"The point I'd like to get out," Keels told Whitlock, "is that if we were to have to hold out, it would be for the sake of good business, not being greedy. I think the picture that is being painted right now in the eyes of the fans is that we're coming into this negotiation being greedy.
"It's not good business for a player who rushes the ball 416 times in a season, back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons, back-to-back 1,700-yard seasons, back-to-back broken Kansas City Chiefs records, it's not good business for him to come back in and play for $1.7 million.
"And that's a sensitive area because $1.7 million is a lot more than most people in Kansas City make."
A very good point. But the good people of Kansas City wouldn't mind seeing Johnson get his -- as long as he continues to deliver.
There are no guarantees. In fact, there's plenty of room for concern.
As Profootballtalk.com editor Mike Florio suggested this week, the retirement of Willie Roaf in 2006 might have directly contributed to Johnson's 0.9 yard-per-carry dropoff last season.
With Will Shields now out of the picture, too, there could be another slip in 2007.
And that could be why the Chiefs want to see what Johnson can do with an even weaker wall of blocking before paying him a bunch of money.
Whatever the case, all the holdout talk prompted Yahoo! Sports correspondent Jason Cole to wonder how Johnson might look in a Philadelphia Eagles uniform? Or maybe in New York Giants, Green Bay Packers or New Orleans Saints togs?
Cole doesn't think so. In fact, he suggested: "For all concerned -- particularly the money-seeking Johnson -- it may be the perfect solution."
Indeed, Johnson was on the trading block earlier this offseason.
As Whitlock reminded readers, the Chiefs offered Johnson to several teams in the days leading up to April's NFL Draft. The Packers expressed the most interest but eventually balked at a draft-day deal that would have cost the Pack their first-, second- and third-round picks.
"I think it made Larry realize how real the business side of football is in the NFL," Keels said of the trade talks. "He saw firsthand that the Chiefs would do what's in the best interest of the organization, so, therefore, it's made him aware that in the future he has to do what's in the best interest of Larry Johnson."
And what's in the best interest of the Chiefs?
If you believe Cole, the really smart move for the club would be to trade Johnson now while his value is at its peak. Around the NFL, that is. Cole went on to argue that for the Chiefs, Johnson's value is not all that strong.
As evidence proving his theory, Cole offered the following examples:
While the 400-carry mark has been troublesome for many, there are those who argue the actual threshold is lower than that. Take, for example, the "370-carry theory" first proposed by FootballOutsiders.com.
Their theory: "A running back with 370 or more carries during the regular season will usually suffer either a major injury or loss of effectiveness the following year."
There have been exceptions, but the list of high-end backs coming up short after 370-plus carry in recent seasons includes Curtis Martin, Jamal Lewis and Ricky Williams. Others, including Terrell Davis, Jamal Anderson and Edgerrin James each tore ACLs a year after going over 370 carries.
The other side of the argument?
In 1986, Eric Dickerson had 404 carries and held up surprisingly well.
He was traded the middle of the following season to the Indianapolis Colts and took advantage of a strike-shortened season to get some extra rest. Between 1987 and 1988, Dickerson averaged more than 100 yards per game.
That, of course, makes him a major exception.
Will Johnson be more like Dickerson or one of the others? That's the question the Chiefs will be asking themselves as Johnson's contract situation plays out. Fantasy owners will want to follow the story closely and I will obviously do my best to keep you on top of it.
For now, I'll note that while ESPN.com insider Len Pasquarelli advised viewers on Friday a deal could be done before training camp, Peterson has taken his time under similar circumstances in the past.
Tony Gonzalez didn't show up for training camp until the last week of August in 2002 -- after an off-season spent in contentious exchanges with Peterson. In 2003, Peterson waited until the week of Kansas City's regular-season opener to get a new deal done with Priest Holmes -- even with Holmes threatening to skip games unless something was done. ...
In Tennessee. ... As Pasquarelli initially reported Monday, four-year veteran Chris Brown, the top tailback still available in the unrestricted free agent market, agreed to terms on a one-year contract with the Titans, the team with which he has played his entire career.
NFL Network insider Adam Schefter subsequently reported that Brown signed a one-year deal with a salary of $1.85 million.
The deal reportedly includes performance incentives for the four-year veteran. Brown signed in time to take part in the team's final mini-camp.
He'll then have a full training camp to compete for touches with LenDale White and rookie Chris Henry. If he emerges as a starter and plays well this season -- not an unreasonable expectation -- Brown's one-year deal will set him up for another free-agent run next offseason.
In case you missed it, Brown had narrowed his choices last week to the Titans and Chicago Bears. The Titans seemed to make more sense all along.
The Titans aren't very deep at tailback, certainly can't count on White to seize the opportunity that's been presented to him -- or can they?
According to Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker, for at least one day White sounded as if he had finally gotten the message the Titans have been trying to send since his arrival in Tennessee last year.
"You've just got to take care of your body. You've go to do everything right. You've got to come back in camp and be in shape and you know, just ready to play football at all times. It is what it is," the former USC standout said.
As Walker suggested, White couldn't have said it better if the Titans had prepared his statement. Of course, the question as to whether White will follow through on those comments remains unanswered.
Of course, if White had only understood the concept outlined above while still in college, questions about his weight gain and hamstring injury might not have dropped him to the 45th pick overall in 2006 after being projected as a potential top 15 selection.
And as Walker noted, if White had learned that last season while watching Travis Henry run for 1,211 yards, he might not have ballooned up to 260 pounds before the offseason program started in March.
Also, the Titans might not have needed to draft Henry or bring back Brown.
In other words, I'd be reluctant to bet my Fantasy team's success on White's comments alone. I'll believe White has learned his lesson when I see that White has learned his lesson with my own eyes.
Meanwhile, I'll remind you that Tennessee's coaches are familiar and comfortable with Brown and his upright running style. In 42 games, including 28 starts, Brown carried 541 times for 2,295 yards and 11 touchdowns.
A third-round choice in the 2003 draft, he rushed for a career-best 1,067 yards in just 11 appearances in 2004.
It's also worth noting Brown never sold his home in Tennessee and that he's said to have a good relationship with head coach Jeff Fisher. And even though the coach stressed that no guarantees have been made and that all three running backs have been told the competition for the starting job is wide open, Brown is the guy to watch.
"I've got a chip on my shoulder. I've got a lot to prove," Brown said.
My guess is Brown not only better understands the opportunity presented by his return to Tennessee, he'll go to much greater lengths to take advantage of it than White. ...
In New York. .. According to AP sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr., Thomas Jones, acquired from the NFC champion Chicago Bears in March to jump-start the Jets' running game, has made quite an impression in the weight room this offseason.
He spends five or six hours exercising and working out -- and that's all before noon.
"He works extremely hard," Chad Pennington said. "He's never the first guy out. He's always staying in there, doing a little extra. He's a true professional."
"Every time I go down to the weight room, he's there," head coach Eric Mangini said. "You can tell there's real progress in terms of his muscle mass. His work ethic on the field has been equally impressive."
His physical attributes aside, Jones brings impressive credentials to New York. He has rushed for more than 1,200 yards in each of his last two seasons and provides the Jets with a legitimate successor to Martin as their No. 1 back.
"Right now, I'm just focused on what I need to do to make this team do better, and that's what I've been focused on this whole offseason," Jones said. "Those are the main things I try to concern myself with."
Last season, Martin never played for the Jets because of a knee injury that has likely ended his career. In his absence, Derrick Blaylock, Kevan Barlow, Leon Washington and Cedric Houston all took turns carrying the load for New York, which finished 20th in the NFL in rushing.
Blaylock and Barlow have since been released, while Jones is almost four months removed from leading the Bears to the Super Bowl against Indianapolis.
Jones, who'll be 29 when the season starts, rushed for 1,210 yards and six touchdowns last season.
"The Super Bowl is a long time ago for me," Jones said. "It was in February, but moving here to New York and getting settled in and getting used to the offense, that's all I've been really focused on. I really haven't thought about the Super Bowl."
Maybe not, but as Waszak suggested, the Jets sure have.
And they know having a back like Jones makes them more of a threat in the AFC. That's not as much a knock on Washington and Houston, the lone holdovers from last season at the position, than an acknowledgment of Jones' talent.
Jones has rushed for 5,348 yards and six touchdowns in his career, but has also been a big threat out of the backfield in the passing game with 215 catches for 1,376 yards.
"I consider myself a pretty good receiver," Jones said. "I take a lot of pride in catching the ball and in pass protection, and I take a lot of pride in trying to be a complete back, so if they throw it to me, I have a lot of confidence I can catch it."
Jones is hoping to be even more of an all-around impact player than he was with the Bears.
"The offense, there's definitely a lot of opportunity for me to get the ball in the open field and do some things out there," Jones said. "Chicago's offense was a little more -- I don't want to say we didn't have a lot of opportunities to get the ball, but we were pretty predictable as far as our running game.
"Here, we have so many great players on offense, we have a lot of guys who can make plays, and I'm just one of those guys."
While humble is nice, that's not an entirely accurate representation. The Jets are clearly planning to give him the majority of the carries.
As Waszak put it: "[Jones is] a little more than just an extra piece in the Jets' game plan," and his presence in the offense thrills Pennington.
"I think everyone knows what type of running back he is and the really good things he's done throughout his career," Pennington said. "We're excited to have him here. We're going to do everything we can to make sure we put him in a successful position to help us win."
It's worth noting Washington had a similar take when asked about Jones likely shouldering the load. "That's not a problem," Washington said. "If that's what gives us the best chance to win, that's fine. ..."
In Oakland. ... Dominic Rhodes started and came off the bench effectively as a running back for the Indianapolis Colts. Now, the free-agent acquisition's preference with the Raiders is simple.
"Getting the ball," Rhodes said following one of the team's final mini-camp workouts last week. "I just want to get the ball and make plays. As long as that's happening, I'm cool with it because I feel like the more I'm touching the ball, the more plays I can make."
Rhodes said the Raiders' offense fits him "perfectly" -- even if he does not start.
Rhodes also is getting acquainted with being a receiving threat.
"They're going to put me in a lot of situations where I'm matched up with linebackers and safeties and make plays," Rhodes said.
Running backs were part of the passing game for the Colts (Rhodes had 36 catches last season). But Manning is that offense's centerpiece. And his job is to get the ball to Pro Bowl receivers Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison.
According to Sacramento Bee staffer Jason Jones, the Raiders plan to make the running game reign supreme this season, which is fine with Rhodes.
"Teams played us in a lot of cover two in Indy because we were more of a passing team," Rhodes said. "Here we're going to be a running team, so they'll have guys in the box and it'll leave running backs one-on-one on the outside with people to make big plays."
As Jones summed up, "Rhodes knows if he does that, it won't matter if he starts because he'll do plenty of finishing."
I agree. ... If new head coach Lane Kiffin makes good on promises to use LaMont Jordan and Rhodes as part of a two-headed attack in much the same way the Saints use Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister, I expect the more versatile Rhodes to be more productive than Jordan. ...
In Washington. ... Ladell Betts continues to work hard this offseason despite his understanding that last year's career-best season won't produce an accompanying promotion this season.
Betts, 27, took over for Clinton Portis, first periodically at the beginning of last season while Portis recovered from a separated shoulder and then permanently after Portis broke his hand in a 27-3 loss Nov. 12 in Philadelphia.
Although he got off to a slow start, Betts wound up rushing for 1,154 yards in nine starts. And at times during the offseason -- an offseason in which Betts signed a new contract to remain a Redskin rather than testing the free-agent waters, head coach Joe Gibbs intimated that there was a chance that he would leave the starting running back job to more open competition.
But that won't be the case.
"Clinton is the starter," associate head coach-offense Al Saunders said this past week. "Ladell had a terrific year. The way he played last year showed what a gifted and talented player he is in the NFL."
So, with the Redskins' final mini-camp over, Washington Post staff writer Howard Bryant advises readers the hierarchy is clear: Portis is back, and he is the starter. Betts is the second running back, followed by the reserve group of Rock Cartwright, Blaylock and Mike Sellers.
Still, it should be noted that Saunders has always been a big fan of Betts, going back to when Betts played high school football in Missouri. When he arrived to oversee the Redskins' offensive line in February 2006, Saunders said Betts was one of the first players he grew excited about.
Saunders said he wanted to continue finding ways to get the ball to Betts in the open field, and saw different scenarios where Betts and Portis could be in the backfield at the same time.
But just because Portis will reclaim his spot as the starting tailback doesn't mean that Saunders doesn't believe Betts will be an impact player.
"It's been mandated that Clinton is the starter, yes, but certainly we'll find ways that accentuate the dynamic things that Ladell can do," Saunders said. "He just the kind of player you can put into an offense that will flourish. The offense is governed by what players can do.
"And being part of the passing game is one Ladell's strengths."
While Gibbs is clearly the one mandating that Portis remains the starter, it's safe to say the offense will be adjusted to make greater use of both men -- and that's bad news for Portis fans. ...
In New Orleans. ... Questions surrounding the Saints' plans at wideout are said to be clearing up following the latest mini-camp. According to Biloxi Sun Herald staffer Larry Holder, Marques Colston is the undisputed No. 1 receiver and an improved Devery Henderson seems well on his way to grabbing the No. 2 role.
"Devery's done a good job in these early camps," head coach Sean Payton recently said. "I thought he made strides last year and made some big plays."
But he served mostly as a No. 3 receiver who ran deep routes. This year, Henderson has a chance to become even more involved, especially if he can shake off some past problems with dropped passes.
Meanwhile, Holder reports that veteran David Patten saw tons of action as the Saints' third wideout and if his health holds up, Patten should fit in nicely at the slot.
That leaves Jamal Jones, Terrance Copper, Lance Moore, Rhema McKnight, Dante Ridgeway and first-round pick Robert Meachem to compete for probably two slots. Copper and Jones were the winners last season, but Moore's chances increased when Michael Lewis was released last week.
As Holder notes, there's no doubt about Meachem making the team, so it realistically means only one of the bunch could be safe.
In case you missed it, Meachem is rehabilitating his right knee following an arthroscopic procedure to clean out loose cartilage and repair his medial meniscus. The surgery was performed the first week of June.
According to AP sports writer Brett Martel, the Saints knew Meachem had undergone surgery on the same knee in 2003, when he sat out a season as a medical redshirt for Tennessee. Meachem said he thought he was fully healthy when he arrived in New Orleans after playing the past three seasons at Tennessee.
Payton said Meachem's swelling might have gone down with rest and surgery may not have been necessary, but that operating was the best option with training camp more than a month away.
Players are expected to report on July 25, with the first practice on July 26.
"I didn't want it to be a nagging problem," Payton explained. "The doctors felt real good about what they saw prior to doing the scope and I think we all felt like it was best to do it now. When his rehabilitation's over, it won't be a lingering issue. It will be something that can be 100 percent and cleaned up."
While Meachem's failure to show up for initial workouts in shape was a disappointment, the youngster will still be given every opportunity to earn a spot in the rotation. After all, Payton's willingness to open the season with seventh-round pick Colston as a starter makes it clear the coach has no qualms about rolling with the young folks. ...
In Jacksonville. ... The Orlando Sentinel recently advised readers the Jaguars can't tell you whom their next No. 1 receiver will be -- if there is one -- or even how a trio of returning pass-catchers will mesh with a slew of newcomers.
But they know this: Dennis Northcutt is going to help them.
As Sentinel staffer Alan Schmadtke explained, the seven-year veteran has a vast working knowledge of three-receiver offenses and how to get open in them. He also has a knack for finding his role within the offense and making it a key one.
"Dennis has been a terrific addition," head coach Jack Del Rio said. "He brings speed, suddenness, veteran savvy. The other thing he brings to our locker room is a guy that's done it. He understands what it takes to be a pro. He's been a tremendous influence on our young receivers."
The Jags lured Northcutt in free agency with a five-year, $17 million contract that included a $4.5 million signing bonus. The contract means a certain spot in the starting lineup, which means less time for one of three veteran wideouts, Ernest Wilford, Reggie Williams or Matt Jones.
So far that person is Jones, who has had trouble keeping his legs healthy during mini-camp and OTAs.
According to Pro Football Weekly, this is shaping up to be a make-or-break season for Jones, a former college quarterback who has developed much slower than expected.
It's also worth noting that following Jimmy Smith's surprise retirement last May, the Jaguars didn't have a receiver in the top 50 in the league in catches last year.
Jacksonville added rookies Mike Walker and John Broussard -- along with free-agent Jimmy Farris -- to a group that also includes second-year receiver Charles Sharon.
All of them, old and young have one thing in common.
"None of these guys have made it to the second contract [of their careers]," Northcutt said. "In this league, you haven't done anything till you've got that second contract."
Northcutt is starting his third, to which he attributes a simple philosophy.
"Don't worry about the next guy," he told Schmadtke. "Take care of yourself, your body, learn the offense and do what you do. ... That's the bottom line in this league."
Let's hope some of his new receiving mates in J-ville are listening. ...
In Tampa Bay. ... Head coach Jon Gruden continues to gush over Jeff Garcia, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't mind Jake Plummer paying the team a visit.
The former Broncos starting quarterback missed the first day of a mandatory mini-camp Tuesday and is subject to a fine. Plummer routinely has claimed he's retired but has yet to file the appropriate papers with the league office.
While they wait, the Bucs continue to hold out hope the quarterback they traded a 2008 draft pick for shows up.
"We'll reserve a spot for the 'Snake' for a little while longer," Gruden said. "If it was Jake Jones or Jake Johnson or Jake Gruden, we'd probably bypass the holding pattern that we're in right now. This is one heck of a football player that has accomplished a great deal. At this point, he's retired and hopefully at some point he changes his mind or reconsiders."
Garcia took the bulk of the snaps Tuesday, while Bruce Gradkowski and Chris Simms got most of the leftovers, though Simms' reps were significantly less. ...
Also in Tampa. ... Carnell Williams has been running a lot on a different kind of tire this offseason. There are times, in fact, when Cadillac has run with no tires at all.
In an effort to strengthen the muscles in his feet and improve his overall balance, the Bucs have had Williams running in tennis shoes and sometimes with no shoes at all.
According to Tampa Tribune staffer Roy Cummings, the tire change comes as a result of the problems Williams has had avoiding foot injuries, which have cost him playing time in each of his first two NFL seasons.
Williams is running in specially designed football cleats during regular workouts, but he says the straight-line running he's doing with sneakers or no shoes is having the desired effect.
"It's a little different but it's helping me to get a good feel in my feet," Williams said of the footwear change. "The bottom line is I think it's helping me a lot."
It certainly can't hurt. ...
In Chicago. ... The Bears don't figure to have many outright position battles in training camp, but rookie tight end Greg Olsen used to the team's most recent mini-camp to make it clear he's going to push Desmond Clark for playing time this summer.
"Greg Olsen is going to be huge," Rex Grossman said. "He's going to make Desmond Clark better and our whole offense. We're probably going to have a few more plays for the tight end than we did. Flex him out to receiver, he's fast enough to play there. We're excited about it."
According to Chicago Sun-Times staffer Brad Biggs, Olsen is doing his best to assimilate what he's learning off the field and take it on the field.
"It's a lot faster when I am in there now at this level and trying to remember everything we have to do and then be able to execute it against our No. 1 defense," he said. "I'm confident I can catch up."
That will only happen if he can avoid a contract holdout. Olsen told Biggs that talks between his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, and the team are "under way," and he doesn't expect to miss any camp.
Sounds good, but I'm not sure Bears GM Jerry Angelo is looking forward to negotiations with Rosenhaus.
According to Chicago Tribune reporter David Haugh, when Rosenhaus was seen celebrating prematurely -- hugging Olsen on the TV screen with the San Diego Chargers still on the clock -- during the NFL Draft broadcast, Angelo just shook his head as he watched from the Halas Hall draft room.
"I'm sure everybody was looking and thinking, 'Boy, San Diego, with Olsen and [tight end Antonio] Gates,' and I'm thinking to myself, 'This guy could screw up a one-car funeral,'" Angelo said. He was referring to Rosenhaus, and the room filled with laughter.
As Haugh suggested then: "We'll see if Angelo can still laugh at the sight of Rosenhaus by August. ..."
That's it for this week's Notebook. I'll check in again next Sunday. ... In the meantime, keep an eye on the News & Views section of this site for late-breaking news and other tidbits of interest. Watch the Headline News section for more in-depth reviews of current events -- including the Fantasy Notebook.